Monday, September 30, 2013

Frugal Grocery Tid-bits

National Preparedness Month is almost over. If you've been overwhelmed with THINGS-TO-DO, remember that your can start small.  The little things really do add up. As recently mentioned by K of Planning and Foresight, a price book or list is an important tool in the process of living, and especially preparing, frugally. Here are a few examples from just the last week.

A neighbor's husband just got the good news-bad news.  Good news was that he's not on the lay-off list.  Bad news is that he's getting a 15% pay reduction starting 1 October.  They are going through the process of reducing their family's overhead. We're close enough that we occasionally pick up things from the store for one another.  They have a favorite brand of TP, for which I had coupons for $2.50 off 24 rolls at Target.  I did the math in the store and found that it would be 60 cents a roll ON SPECIAL ($1 off 24 rolls), plus the $2.50 in coupons. Not sure about you, but my price target is the best I can find below 40 cents a roll for either of the 2 brands we find...acceptable. I couldn't bring myself to buy it for them. With a 'regular' price of 70+ cents a roll, assuming they use 2 rolls a week, that's an EXTRA $31.20 a year for TP.  That will buy 25 pounds or beans or rice at Walmart. See how easy it is to be more prepared? Just switch TP -- you're going to throw it away anyway!

Try not to hurry through your shopping, either.  When you have the time, proceed thoughtfully and pay attention. I was in K-Mart to pick up prescriptions and Dear Husband's Crystal Light Orange flavor, which was on special. I stumbled across Seattle's Best Ground Coffee 12 ounce bags on clearance for $2.00 per bag (about $2.70 per pound).  The 'best by' dates are in April 2014.  That price was way below my price for good coffee as an occasional treat, so I bought 3 and vacuum packed them.

We also mix cereals in a cereal container to balance cost and protein content. One-third is the more expensive high-protein cereal plus two-thirds Cheerios and/or Kellogg's Red Berries (all bought on special with coupons) can yield a 6 protein gram per bowl morning breakfast. Kellogg's Special K varieties were on special and had a 'buy 3 get 1 free' offer.  I had $2 worth of applicable coupons for a total of less than $2 per box.

Having a little food and staples buffer stored allows you to buy when prices are low, rather than buy at whatever the price is when you run out of whatever.

If you haven't read these two recent posts, they are certainly worth your time and go into more detail about broader reasons and ways to be prepared.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

How are your frugal Christmas plans going?

Most years, I'm in pretty good shape for Christmas by the end of September.  Not so much this year. Perhaps being retired has reduced the pressure of getting it all done in time.  Maybe it just isn't that important now because I can give to friends and family when they need it, not just some token at Christmas. Who knows?

My knitting and crocheting are horrible -- I don't have the patience for it. I've found a few things that work for me on a regular basis.

One of my old home-made favorites is a cutting board.  The ones in the stores are made of scraps and fall apart at the seams under heavy use.  Solid, one piece boards are rare and expensive if you find them on store shelves.  Now's a great time to start making these for a three reasons. First, they are EASY.  Second is that to be really frugal, you want the least expensive way to use expensive wood. Start looking for shorter pieces of 6 inch or wider oak and maple in the hardwood section of Home Depot, Lowes or other places that carry it.  The wood should be at least half an inch thick, but not more than thee-quarter inch. They usually provide one free cut, so if you get a shorter remnant and have it cut, you don't need to rev up your saw at home to get the size you want, or pay for the extra cuts. After that, sand the edges and seal with food grade mineral oil. You're done!  The third reason these are great for Christmas is that most recipients really come to love them if they use them. The best sizes are 6 or 8 inches wide by 10 to 12 inches long. Larger than that, they become problems for storage or cleaning. Smaller and they aren't as useful.  I've made myself a couple 5.5 X 8.5 inch boards and they have less utility -- OK for cutting lemons or garlic, but you need a bowl close at hand for anything larger. That's two things to wash instead of one. About washing: my Mom had one- piece oak cutting boards, put them in the dishwasher regularly and only rarely reapplied mineral oil.  They got thinner over time, but they outlived her. A few were at least 40 years old when we had to pack up her house.

Another favorite frugal gift idea is any local agricultural item, especially for gifts that need to be mailed. Local honey is always a good gift. We are in an area that has abundant pecans and pistachios, so those go in the box for brother and cousin. My preserves are going out faster than I anticipated so none will be in the Christmas boxes, unfortunately. What about your area? Popcorn? Maple syrup?

A few of those on my list are either big backpackers or maintain a lot of preparedness supplies, so they can get the same type of gifts. By watching websites like Emergency Essentials, I can pick up a few bargains for their Christmas gifts.

Don't forget the change jar. A local store has one of those coin counting machines that doesn't keep a percentage if you put the money on a gift card. They offer a choice for Amazon, so big readers may like one of those!

What are some of your favorite frugal Christmas gifts to give?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Easy Acorns

 This post is for those who live in the desert southwest and other places where the "white oaks" predominate the oak landscape. An article cited on the Prepper Website details the steps to cold leach acorn flour.  These techniques generally do not apply to the white oak fruit due to their very low tannic acid levels, and constitute a delay between you and food in case of crisis. This article discusses how to tell the difference between white and red oaks by looking at the leaves of the oak, and provides some other tips on use of acorns. Leaching the acorns of the white oak group is generally a waste of resources.  In the southwest, most of the acorn-producing oaks are of the white oak group. Elsewhere, it might be useful to find a source of white oak acorns in your area for potential future use.

I have an Emory Oak in my front year. If I can beat the javelina to the ripe nuts, they are usually abundant in late October. I've harvested and made flour twice, and it's pretty good. Harvesting can either be done by picking them up off the ground or by placing a sheet on the ground under the trees and gently stroking the branches with a long stick or pole. The gently stroking helps the oak drop only the ripe acorns and helps ensure that only the new crop is harvested. I learned the stroking method by watching our local Apache tribe members harvest acorns.

The shelled kernels are about the size of a shelled peanut, with similar size variations from small to larger. My method is to crack the nuts, briefly rinse the kernels to remove grime or bits of shell, air dry and grind. The shells are thin and most nutcrackers destroy the acorn. I use kitchen scissors to cut off the soft end (the one that was under the cap) and split the shell. I tried cracking them en mass with the nuts inside a towel using a hammer. The results were unsatisfactory, with some nuts destroyed and others not cracked, so back to kitchen scissors. It's time consuming but I don't destroy my food source. If you've found a good way to open them without doing it one-by-one, let us know in the comments!

I use two hand mills when I grind them.  The first is a larger Lehman's set for coarse grinding. This reduces the nuts from the size of large peanuts to about the size of wheat grains.  I transfer this to my small Back to Basics mill for fine flour. When the nuts are fresh, this stuff is rather wet compared to most grains, so you'll need to check more often for clogging in your mills. I prefer to do this by hand using non-electric means because if I ever really need my front yard acorns for food, we'll probably be in a grid-down scenario.

The flour is sweeter (i.e. more carbs) and has less protein than wheat flour. It has essentially no gluten, so needs some help to stick together for breads or muffins. Eggs or wheat flour can help, if you have them. If you have used mesquite bean flour, it is somewhat similar for cooking. Given this, if I were eating these in serious survival mode, I'd probably bypass the flour step altogether and eat raw or chop roughly to add to stew. If harvesting and saving for future use, shelling and preserving the whole nut kernel is probably the way to go. I may try that this fall and let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blogger cries "UNCLE" in search of a new pack

I have struggled to keep my wonderful Maxpedition Falcon Pygmy II bug out pack below 16 pounds. It's a slightly older model that does not have a hydration pack, so the other weight will go to 2 quart bottles of water for about 20 lbs, excluding hiking stick, and pocket carry (chapstick, multi tool, cell phone, weapon).

Well, in my quarterly review I decided that I need a few things currently missing from my little pack. Despite multiple changes of undies and socks which would allow for washing and hanging to dry outside the pack, I did not have a change of shirt. I really want that, and possibly some light weight, easy-dry shorts.  I also would really prefer a built-in hydration pack. The thought of losing a water bottle while on foot in the desert is really oppressive. I can carry a patch kit and back-up collapsible bottle just in case, but would prefer the ease and volume of the bladder.

 First, I tried a Voodoo Tactical Matrix pack. It is a great design with lots of great pockets for easy access to often needed items. Problem is that it has a weird carry-handle.  It is on the strap assembly and is positioned such that the pack can only be comfortably worn by someone with  a major bulked-up muscular set of shoulders, a large dowager's hump or severe curvature of the spine. I couldn't believe it when it came in the mail.  I figured it would no longer whack me in the cervical vertebrae once I load it because surely no pack would be made to  have that weird handle smacking the back of the wearer's neck. Boy was I wrong.  About 5 minutes of wearing this thing gives me a headache.

Back to Maxpedition for me, and the Falcon. Pockets and pouches are not as well done as the Matrix, but it had a normal carry-handle, as opposed to the migraine Matrix. The Falcon has the room I need but not a whole lot more than the Pygmy II -- just a slightly larger version.  Because of that, the straps aren't as comfortable as the Pygmy, either.  At least it does not fit a female frame the same way the Pygmy Falcon does. I am really stumped.
Anyone have/recommend a 1600 Cubic Inch pack that works for a female around 5'6" tall? How about someone who solved the Matrix problem, perhaps with scissors and thread? I'm afraid to just cut the handle for fear of ruining the pack for return or resale, but I sure can't use it as is. I prefer not to have a pack with a frame for several reasons, but really want the hydration system and a waist belt. Help?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Honeyville 15% discount thru 20 September

Honeyville's 15% Off Sale is back.
Starting today through Friday, Sept. 20th, Just shop online at and claim 15% savings on your entire online purchase.
Enter the coupon code "RECIPE" during checkout and enjoy.
Remember to tell your friends and family who may be interested.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Frugal Home Security Improvements for NPM

Simple steps may provide enough deterrence to everyday intruders, or give you a few extra seconds to be prepared for them. Tips today will focus on spending $20 or less for increased security.

First is what I call 'Kettling." If you haven't seen the old Kettles movies, look them up.
The overall sense of the Kettles' home, from the outside, was that it was a dump. Let a few weeds grow. Let that fence be in a little disrepair.  Don't trim the hedge as often. Don't keep your front yard looking like you have a live-in gardener or landscaper.  That makes your home look more desirable when you sell, but also more attractive when bad guys are looking for a place that probably has valuables inside.  It's a little hard to get used to, but it helps. 

Next in low cost is checking your lock screws. The strike plate for your dead bolt has screws in it. Take one out. If it is less than 2.5 inches long, replace them with longer screws, at least 2.5 inches long, 3 inches is even better. Talk to your hardware specialist to see if they have a type of harder or less brittle screws. It could be the difference between a bump and a kick to get the door opened.

Check your windows, especially near the doors. Can they be easily broken or entered with a glass cutter, allowing easy access to latches and locks? If so, there are low-cost measures to slowing down the entry process.  Ask at your hardware store. They should have a variety of locks or small bars that will help. Room window glass can be reinforced with clear Mylar products that hold the broken glass together to prevent shatter and require another cutting tool to remove the broken glass to make an opening large enough to enter the window. I found some on eBay that we applied to a front window that would have allowed easy access to the front door deadbolt.

Landscape planting choices can also make your already Kettled front yard more formidable. Roses, pomegranates, Chilean mesquite and pyracantha are among the many thorny landscape plants you can use around windows to reduce their attractiveness for unauthorized entry. One gallon plants can be bought in most areas for about $6. Plant now and they will be large enough to help deter intrusions by next summer.  Be sure to leave a small space for emergency egress and have a twin-sized blanket or quilt near the windows. Egress training for children should include wrapping in the blanket to avoid thorns. Older children or adults can throw the blanket over the thorny plants during egress.

Other than a bunch of ammo waiting for anyone who comes inside uninvited, what are your favorite low-cost deterrents?

UPDATE: Great additional tips in the comments!  Thanks K and Odessa!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembrance and Reminder

Today we remember those lost on September 11, 2001, and pray for the strengthened resolve of this Nation and her citizens.  Let us also resolve to be individually prepared for future emergencies. If you work outside the home, remind your employer that this is National Preparedness Month and ask to review the emergency supplies and procedures for your workplace.

Preparedness kits in desk drawers and car trunks can be useful. Ladies, don't forget comfortable flat shoes if your normal work uniform includes heels. Can you negotiate the stairs in the fire escapes in your building without a flashlight? Can you shelter in place for the night if conditions warrant staying at work? Is there an alternate water supply if the external water source is not available?  These questions, based on the location and configuration of your workplace can guide what is in your bottom drawer or, if you are vehicle based, a small backpack in your vehicle. Water, flashlight, walking shoes, blanket, toothbrush and an MRE or foodbar might be a good start.

Yes, it's rare to need these provisions, but it happens. I learned a lot experiencing the Loma Prieta earthquake when I was working in downtown San Francisco. We had lots of people stay overnight in our building because they couldn't get back across San Francisco Bay.  ( I lived close by and made it home that night) Despite the known risk, our employer had no emergency earthquake supplies in the building (that changed shortly after the quake), so folks were on their own without power.  Surprisingly, few of those who worked there and lived far away had any type of emergency kit in their desks.  Being in the building was better than being out in the elements, but not by much. If they'd known to raid my desk, a few would have had dinner!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

National Preparedness Month AGAIN!

My, how time has flown since the last one.  If you are new to the preparedness concept, please look at the pages listed at the top of this blog.  There are tips and 'how-to's" for the novice to help make basic preparedness simple and relatively inexpensive.  FEMA guidelines suggest a 72-hour kit for emergencies that will require evacuation and 2 weeks of basics like food, water, alternate light and heat if you will shelter in place.

My suggestion is look at the types of emergencies that may arise in your area and do some homework.  Neither 72-hour or 2-week kits may have been right for the Katrina or Sandy recipients. How about some of those tornadoes that leveled blocks? A basement or buried supplies may be a good idea.

Here's another bit of food for thought: Do you have elderly parents? How will you help them in an emergency? More of those of us in the baby boom and sandwich generations have parents and/or children to consider in our preparations.

Speaking of caring for elderly parents, if you don't already have some perspective on this undertaking, don't miss Dick Lane's e-book on his experience.  How would you plan emergency preparedness for this situation?  Now, doesn't that make your planning needs look much easier?