For awhile now, I’ve wanted to start doing a thrifty living type of column for Gonzo Times. I know that there are a lot of sites dedicated to thrifty living, but I think GT readers (and contributors!) can provide a different perspective than the typical thrifty website. One of the things I hate about those sites is that, while they do tend to have a lot of good advice for families, they sometimes lack on the practical advice for the young, hip, urban folk like myself. I have no professional experience in saving money.
Basically, you know, I’m just a foul mouthed 30 something out of work childless partnered woman living in a major metropolitan area. (Just so you know where I’m coming from and all.)
Obviously, your mileage may vary on this column. I’m hoping that, in the future, I might be able to find someone from a rural or suburban area who can team up with me. I think that there are challenges and helpful tips that are very specific to each general area.
One easy way to start slashing your budget is to just learn some life skills. Learn to cook, clean, sew, garden, or do basic home improvement. If you want to avoid being a broke stoner who is content to live in their filth (like too many of my former roommates), the first thing you’ve got to do is learn how to be an adult. Even Whole Paycheck can be affordable if you know what to buy.
We’re going to start with a few basic kitchen investments. Some of these items might seem pricy, but in the long run, they’re going to save you a nice chunk of change. (Don’t forget, thrift stores, Craigslist, yard sales, and Freecycle are all great places to look for most of these items. Since we’re heading into the holiday shopping season, you might also be able to find an awesome deal at your favorite big box housewares retailer or discount department store.)
Now, by no means is this an exhaustive list, but I think these five investments are going to help you significantly in your quest to cut down your cost of living. (Don’t worry, I can guarantee I’ll wind up making a few more of these lists in future columns.) Please note that each item was priced on Amazon and I used the prices for new items; you can probably find better deals if you buy used or if you comparison shop a bit. Also, if you’re on a budget, you should always research items before purchasing them. Remember, we broke asses have to make the best use of our not-so-disposable cash and that means getting the most bang for our buck. That $20 blender doesn’t seem so cheap if you have to replace it in three months.
Full disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with any of these companies, nor am I receiving any sort of payment or freebies from any of them. If you are a rep for any of these products (or other kitchen/housewares/craft/art supply companies) and would like to offer me free products, please contact me at drunkenatheist @ gmail [dot] com.
1- Cast iron cookware: I can’t say enough great things about cast iron. I love the shit. It’s awesome on gas or electric ranges, and once you are able to maintain a proper seasoning, everything will slide right out of your pan. The best part about them is that it’s no effort to get a good sear on your meat or vegetables, which means it’s easier for my broke ass to make cheap food taste delicious with little to no effort.
My pans are all made by Lodge Logic, and I think the two main “can’t live without” pieces for me are my dutch oven and my skillet. I have found that pork fat does the best job at seasoning the pans; for veg*ns, palm oil shortening works great as well. To help maintain the slickness after use, I make a loose paste out of Kosher salt and vegetable oil, and use this to scrub the pan clean; the salt will scrub out all the food but it’s gentle enough that it won’t hurt the pan and the oil will help condition the pan. Once you’ve scrubbed out the pan, just wipe out the salt and excess oil.
I also store my cast iron in the oven; when the oven is in use, I only remove as many cast iron pans as necessary, leaving the least seasoned ones inside the oven while it heats. Be forewarned, if you have to season your pans, preemptively open windows and set up some fans to air out your kitchen. It will get smoky.
Cost: starts at $17 for a skillet
2- Crock pot: A good crock pot will make it possible to turn all of those fatty, gristle filled, touch cuts of meat into melt-in-your mouth goodness that will get better the next day. If you’re not familiar with how to use a crock pot, it’s very simple. They’re perfect for SAHPs or working folks, and — though I prefer to sear certain ingredients in advance — it’s not necessary to do much more than toss your prepped ingredients into the crock pot, program it, and walk away.
There are a million crock pot recipes out there, and the really awesome thing is that once you’re comfortable with the basics of cooking, you can always make up your own crock pot meals for a fraction of what you’d pay in the grocery store; yours are also guaranteed to be healthier and tastier.
Cost: starts at $11
3- Chest freezer: It might seem a little crazy to suggest a $100+ purchase for a “cheapskate” column, but even a small chest freezer is worth the investment. I use my GE 5.0 cu. ft. freezer to keep a large stockpile of frozen food on hand at all times. It’s perfect for stocking up during sales, at the Asian market (where prepared frozen foods are so inexpensive, but we’ll talk about that later), or for packing up large batches of soup or side dishes. (For the record, that’s my favorite use of my chest freezer. I absolutely love have homemade “tv dinners” on hand at all times.)
If you tend to get takeout pretty often, you’ll be shocked to see how quickly a chest freezer will pay for itself.
Cost: starts at $100
4- Good knives (or at least one or two good knives): For this portion of the post, I’m just going to rip off “Art of Manliness“:
Steel – a tool used to sharpen knives.
Serrated Utility Knife – used for slicing bread, meats, or other foods with a hard crust or outer skin. Also great for cutting juicy or soft vegetables such as tomatoes.
Cleaver – used to de-bone or butcher larger cuts of meat where more weight and less precision is needed.
Chef’s Knife – the most used and versatile knife in the kitchen. Used for slicing, dicing, chopping or de-boning smaller cuts of meat.
Filet Knife – a sharp and slim bladed knife for filleting fish or removing and trimming fat and silver skin from tenderloins.
Paring Knife – a small, versatile knife used to peel, cut, or clean fruits and vegetables.
Personally, like the author, I’ve been able to do quite well with just a good German chef’s knife my boyfriend picked up while overseas. (I do have a decent set of knives, but they do not compare to the chef’s knife he got me.) One day, I’ll replace the entire set with some nice ass knives, but for now, I’m making do.
Cost: Starts at $27 (note: I sorted by “customer reviews” for chef’s knives)
5- Ziploc/Rubbermaid containers for packing leftovers: Out of the big box retailers, I’m a Target girl. With few exceptions, their generic products (sold under brand names Up & Up, Archer Farms, and Market Pantry) tend to be really well made, including their Tupperware styled containers. While you might balk at the cost of cheap plastic containers, they are good for multiple uses, are dishwasher, freezer and microwave safe, and (provided you have the proper sizes) will pay for themselves in no time. The screwtop styled containers are great for soups and “drippy” types of dishes. The larger rectangular containers are awesome for side dishes like roasted potatoes or rice.
Ziploc and Rubbermaid both manufacture tv dinner styled containers. My ex-boyfriend worked overnights during the time we were dating; those containers proved to be life savers for him. I would freezer dinner sized portions of our meals so that he had something delicious, filling, and cheap to eat. It was great for us because we weren’t spending extra cash on work food, and this was a habit I carried over after we broke up. Once my rent and other bills were paid, I had less than $100 a week to spend and save. Having my pick of lunches in my freezer were such a huge help.
Cost: multi-piece sets start at $14