Feb 19, 2009

Extremely frugal and Extreme Frugality

So I was listening to the WNYC today as I often do when feeding the baby, and Leonard Lopate was talking to a writer from Maine who is blogging for Gourmet magazine on the topic of Extreme Frugality — a topic to which I can relate. I know, I was like, "Wah? This topic seems incongruous with Gourmet magazine," but a big part of being extremely frugal is feeding your family on the cheap so I guess it fits.

Anyway, the writer, W. Hodding Carter, says he decided it was time for his family to start living within their means (after years of accruing credit card debt to live a lifestyle which they could not afford). And with humble means that means shopping at discount food stores, baking all their own bread and no eating out.

I'm hoping a book deal is in the works for him, in the vein of A Year of Living Biblically. I'm not sure which is harder: following the hundreds of wacky tenets in the Bible, or trying to feed, clothe and house a family of six on $41,000 a year while trying to pay off significant credit card debt. Hmmm...makes me feel a little bit better about our situation.

So among the things we have done to kickstart our extreme frugality — begun last summer after Lucienne's birth, which coincided unfortunately with the recession — are:
-We switched to store-brand everything. Whole Foods' brand is really cheap and still good. Target brand diapers are way cheap. (Sorry environment, but we share our laundry with a couple hundred other people and I just can't put poopy diapers in there. Bad karma.)
-I box-die my hair now.
-And get my hair cut by an apprentice stylist. (He's so awesome though I have to tip like I'm paying much more for my cut.)
-No eating out. Ever.
-I drink Cafe Bustelo. The best and cheapest espresso at $2 a can.
-We started eating greens after my friend Marcy showed me how to cook them. I can't believe it took me 30 years to get into kale, collard greens and chard. Greens are cheap yet so nutritious.
-Blogspot blog = free!
-We got baby photos at Olan Mills photography studio for free with coupon!
-I make soup to use up every last piece of fresh produce we buy. I like to play it like a game called The Mother Hubbard Challenge: Use up everything, all of it, in some dish.
-No more magazine subscriptions.
-No more Netflix.
-No more new clothes, shoes or anything we already have one of.
-We joined a listserve for neighbourhood parents who swap baby stuff.
-A purse works fine as a diaper bag.
-A blanket works well as a changing pad.
-Baby socks do double-duty as mittens.
-And "Dry-clean only" really means hand wash and hang to dry.

Our biggest extravagance is DVR. I don't know if I could go back to watching normal TV — even upon threat of starvation.

In his radio interview, Carter mentioned a NY Times recipe for No-Knead bread, which he makes every day (I guess with four kids you go through a loaf a day). I found the recipe here, where one blogger proved a four-year-old can make it. The secret is time — lots of it — and you don't have to get your hands dirty. There's not much I hate more than kneading, so I am going to give this a try.

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