Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

$20 a month grocery budget – one

I’ve had some requests for me to explain how I manage with a grocery budget of only $20 a month. Right now all my food comes from the mobile food bank so I’m not buying any food.  Its non-edible stuff that I buy with the $20 budget.  By doing without or making do I’m able to keep the purchases at or under $20 a month.

Today I’ll start with trash bags.

My SIL and I were at the Dollar Tree store.  Everything in that store is one dollar.   It seemed like the best place to get the non-edible items at the cheapest cost.  I had picked up a box of trash bags and suddenly a tv commercial popped into my head.  The commercial is about a woman being nose blind to trash odors in her kitchen.  That was a turning point for me.  I had to ask myself why do people keep a trash bin lined with a plastic bag in the kitchen?  If trash stinks then why is it kept in the house?   Shouldn’t smelly trash be taken outside?  Trash is kept inside because some big rich company owner wants to “sell” us a product.

I put the box back on the shelf.  My SIL asked my why I put them back and I replied they cost too much.  Surprised my SIL said but Anita trash bags are only a dollar a box.  Ok, but if you don’t have a dollar in the first place they cost too much.  She offered to give me a dollar.  I refused of course because that’s not what I had in mind.  I wanted to eliminate the need to purchase trash bags.  If I don’t need trash bags I won’t need money for them.

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Here’s my thinking.  When I was a child, Grandma Mama didn’t have a trash bin in the house.  She had a small bucket for food scraps to feed the chickens and pigs, which she did everyday.  There was a burn barrel out back near the outhouse for other stuff.  Back in those days even the folks living in the city had burn barrels in the back yard.   Grandma Mama burned anything that couldn’t be fed to an animal or couldn’t be recycled into use for something else.  In winter time trash stuff was burned in the pot belly stove to help heat the house.

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You have to realize that in those days people were still living with the effects of WW2 make do and mend propaganda.  Nothing was wasted. Tin cans and bottles were either set aside for the ww2 version of recycling or dropped into an older outhouse hole after a new one was dug.  Old lard and old bones were picked up to be used in manufacturing soap and gun powder.  There were no use one time and throw away items back then.  No plastic either.

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I kept thinking about the fact I rarely have any trash.  Most of my food is either home canned or scratch made.  There is either recyclable packages or no packages for almost all my groceries.  When I’m peeling veggies I use a plastic grocery bag to put all the peeling in and take it straight to the outside trash can.

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My point is that I really have no need for a kitchen trash bin or to purchase trash bags.  This may not be true for you.  Maybe you do have lots of trash for a kitchen trash bin.  But, do you really need to keep it in the house?  For several days?  Could you make use of free grocery bags and stop paying for thrash bags?  After thinking about the use of plastic store bags I’ve decided I really don’t need the bags at all.  All I really need is a pot, or a bucket, or a bowl, or my two hands to carry stuff from the kitchen to the trash can just a few feet from the door.  I’ve been making plans for a compost bin and a worm farm as a part of my garden next year.  My hope is that I won’t need the city trash can either.  Hee, hee, I wonder what my neighbors will think if my trash bin is never set at the curb?

So, on a limited $20 a month grocery budget I’ve eliminated one item.  What other non-edible item can I eliminate from the grocery list?

To be continued:

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30 comments on “$20 a month grocery budget – one

  1. KAYTHEGARDENER
    December 17, 2016

    I do elder care for a company & help my clients & friends by taking their paper & plastic grocery bags & egg cartons from them. Then I send them to the food bank every month or so, so that they can use them in repacking items for their clients…
    Everyone’s house stays tidy & the food bank benefits!!

    • Anita
      December 17, 2016

      Hey, good idea! Maybe a reader can use it or pass it on to someone they know. I told a lady I know who works for an elder care company here.

  2. Leslie Saunders
    December 3, 2016

    I’m going to try your conditioner formula…thanks. My hair is shorter, but I only shampoo once a week. I think shampooing daily is a waste, and drying, unless you have some medical condition.

    • Anita
      December 5, 2016

      I believe that too. Before I started using this formula my head itched all the time. I believe because of stuff left from the shampoo. The vinegar rinse removes any residual soap. It also helps with skin ph balance.

  3. sarasinart
    December 3, 2016

    You probably know this, but I’ll say it anyway, in case others maybe don’t. Don’t forget to be saving your egg shells. Dry them (outside) in a bag, grind or crunch them up fine, and add to the ground when you plant your calcium loving veggies: tomatoes, collards, cabbage, broccoli. I add some when I plant the things, then maybe half way thru their growing season, add some more.

    • Anita
      December 3, 2016

      I had not thought of saving them. Thank you for telling me. Grandma Mama used to save hers and give them to the chickens in the feed. She believed it made the eggs healthier for people. Instead of being a container for the egg it became part of the egg inside.

      • sarasinart
        December 4, 2016

        You’re welcome. Gardener’s tricks have to be shared! Grind them up as small as you can so they break down more and absorb into the ground as quick as possible.

        • Anita
          December 5, 2016

          I’ll do that thanks.

  4. sarasinart
    December 3, 2016

    I keep a waste can in the kitchen, but nothing messy goes in it. Messy stuff goes out, like the cat litter. Grocery bags (free!) are great for that. I live at the edge of a small woods so there are lots of animals outside. Squirrels, birds, possums overnight. Veggie scraps all go to the compost pile. (Good, you’re already thinking of your compost pile and garden for next spring!) Meat scraps and bones get thrown in a certain place in the yard and are gone by dawn, eaten by the creatures of the night. No food product goes into the landfill here cos somebody will eat it, lol.

    I even collect up food stuff that others might throw away, for my critters. At our historical society we had a fall picnic, and froze rolls that were left over. I don’t know why, cos we had no plans for anybody eating them. The other day they were talking about throwing them away now. I said wait—I want them! Somebody said but they’re no good to eat now, they’re dried and stale. Right, no good to eat if you’re a human, but squirrels will love them. So now I have several packs of goodies for my squirrels and birds. Everybody eats, and I love having food for my critters.

    • Anita
      December 5, 2016

      Ok, I might feed that dang whistle-pig when she comes out of hibernation. Maybe that will keep her out of my future garden. I have clover in the yard and planning to allow a patch of it to grow tall instead of mowing. Maybe having plenty of clover and veggie scraps will keep her happy and out of my space. She needs a name. I’ll think of something by spring.

  5. Margie in Toronto
    December 2, 2016

    I’m not sure what you’ve bought in the past but here goes:
    While I will keep 1 or 2 rolls of paper towels in stock for really messy cleanups I’m planning to switch to regular white “hand towels” for drying fruit & veg etc. IKEA has some small, lightweight ones for 50 cents each so I plan on buying 10 to start (and then having up to 20) – there will be an initial investment but it should save me in the end.
    I am also switching more to baking soda and white vinegar for cleaning rather than having umpteen different products.
    I do have “Saran Wrap” and Foil paper – but again, I’ve slowly been investing in glass SnapLock containers so I’ve cut way back on those sorts of purchases.
    My vacuum doesn’t need bags – I just detach the “cup”, empty everything and wipe it down.
    I use vaseline for a lot of moisturizing needs – especially in the winter – no need for different creams and lotions.
    I live in an apt. bldg. with a laundry room in the basement but the only things that I put in the dryer are sheets & towels – just don’t have the space to dry them on a rack – but everything else goes on a drying rack that stands in my bathtub – saves a few dollars each month.
    I’m sure none of these things are new to you but it’s all I could come up with – you do an amazing job!

    • Anita
      December 2, 2016

      That reminds me of when my kids were babies in diapers. There were no pampers back then. No pre-fold diapers either. We bought packages of cloth diapers and safety pins. I also bought diapers to be used as dish drying cloths. They were super absorbent and made good towels. So that I’d know the dish towels from the diapers I crochet lace trim around the towels. These days I keep a roll of paper towels for company. Its about 5 years old because I don’t use it. Good minds do think alike. I’ve bought a pack of wash cloths to be used as cleaning cloths. A store called Roses sells wash cloths a dozen for $2. Cheap but usable for cleaning. You might want to take a look at Dawn dish liquid. I’ve started using it for all my cleaning along with the baking soda and vinegar. Hmm.. I need to buy a container of vaseline. I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it. All ideas are welcome.

  6. T
    December 2, 2016

    I have cut my own hair for years now, and I was so pleased when my son asked for clippers so he can do the same ( about three years ago, he has already saved $$ )

    The medical situation is completely out of control in the US, and if it is unbalanced for us the patients/consumers it must be upsetting other industries too- we all only have the same dollars to spend and each year now more and more is being taken up with medication and health care.

    I believe the only solution is to take the insurance companies out of the equation, I fail to see what they provide as a service which makes them worth the double cost of US medicine? but when we’ll get a politician brave enough ( or incorruptible enough, whichever it is ) to take that on….

    Anyway…things we are marketed we can do without….I think that’s a lot of things for me- perfume, jewelry, make up, most cleaning products, coffee creamers, soda…

    I am currently inhaling my neighbors’ nasty fumes from I presume fabric softener, as their laundry vent comes out by my front door, hard to imagine people will pay for that ungodly stench!

    It does mean a lot sharing these experiences. I think otherwise most of us would be totally alone with it.

    • Anita
      December 3, 2016

      I agree with you. If our money is spent on health care that doesn’t leave money for other stuff. The medical industry is out of control and the “big wigs” don’t see old people, they see dollar signs. There is no profit in healthy people so no real incentive to help with better health. There is also no profit in dead people either so the medications (and foods) are designed to keep us just healthy enough to keep paying for them. This is not just a USA problem either. The medical industry (and food industry) has branches world wide and people are getting older in all countries. If a person is smart they are taking charge of their own health through better eating and getting away from as many chemicals as possible.

  7. Pam E-P
    December 2, 2016

    I keep my vegetable peels in the freezer to make broth! My husband teases me for freezing trash!

    • Anita
      December 2, 2016

      Hee, hee, hee, I like that. I usually froze peelings for stock but forgot about it while I got settled into this house. Thanks for reminding me. I’ll use my freezer box next time I visit the food bank.

  8. jane
    December 2, 2016

    Your hair is down to your ankles, Anita! Wow, I’ll bet it’s beautiful & healthy! Do you roll it into a bun most of the time? Mine is about mid-back length & I’ve always cut it myself.

    I’m lucky in that I can get away without ever buying bags. I’m in the country so I have an outdoor three-compartment compost system made from recycled wood, and a small bucket in the kitchen lined with a sheet of folded newspaper in the bottom. My newspapers (Sat. only) are even second-hand from a neighbour. 🙂

    I put out a ‘real’ garbage can about once a year, and recyclables go into the blue box, which gets picked up even out here! The one big wish I have is that bulk stores would allow us to take our own cloth bags; at my store I have to use their plastic bags.

    Love your posts – I’ve picked up quite a few tricks!

    • Anita
      December 3, 2016

      Yes, my hair is very thin due to my age and the diabetes. I wear it in a bun most of the time. Every bit of it fits into the palm of my hand when rolled up. I wear it up especially around the quilting machine. I don’t want to chance getting it caught in the fast moving belt. My big wish is that grocery clerks are taught how to pack reusable bags properly. Thanks Jane. How goes your garden lately?

      • Jane
        December 3, 2016

        Hair getting caught in belt — my mother used to tell me that when she was younger, she got her hair caught in the wringer washer. I’m sure there were a lot of accidents with those washers!

        The gardens are done for the year now, but my final rose bloom just died & we’ve had nights below freezing!

        Talking about cleaning and rags and such: I get towels and fabric from a thrift store & make paper towel & sponge replacements by cutting out to appropriate sizes, then sewing two thicknesses of towel and one of flannelette together. I love them!

        • Anita
          December 3, 2016

          There sure were a LOT of accidents with those things. My son got his arm caught in one when he was four. His arm went all the way to the armpit before I could hit the release button. Liked to scared me to death. We were way out in the country nearly an hour away from a hospital.

          • Margie in Toronto
            December 3, 2016

            Your son was lucky – I remember when I was about 11 the ambulance pulling up to our apt. building. A friend’s toddler brother had caught his arm in the wringer when their mom turned her back for a moment – it had to be amputated. I’d be terrified of catching my hair!

          • Anita
            December 5, 2016

            How horrible. Yes my son was lucky.

  9. Suzanne
    December 2, 2016

    Great post! The county we live in has a plastic bag ban to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags so no free plastic bags for food scraps or litter box duty. I buy small generic trash bags for the cat litter and compost the fruit and veggie scraps for the garden. Reading your posts and the comments is a terrific source of new/old ways of pinching pennies; many of the ideas I already use but even an old dog like me can learn a new trick or two.

    • Anita
      December 3, 2016

      I tried using the reusable bags. I bought several and made four of my own. I still have about twenty and gave away several. The trouble with using them was that the people at the stores were not being trained to load them up properly. The reusables were being treated just like thin plastic with only one or two items in each. I stopped using them because some clerks were putting stuff into plastic bags and then into the reusable bags. DUH! What was the point of having bags to reuse if I still got plastic. It seems as if some people are born without the gene for logic?

  10. nancy from mass
    December 2, 2016

    when you wrote about burning things in the pot bellied stove…i remember my mother burning the cotton kotex pads in the fireplace (there wasn’t any plastic in them at that time) to dispose of them as well as burning anything she could to help heat the house.

    We typically have 1 bag in our trash can per week. I recycle everything I can and during the winter, i burn all junk mail (what can’t be burned is recycled). Our recycle bin is always full.

    • Anita
      December 3, 2016

      Nancy I had forgotten all about burning those. That was much better than having to wash the rags we used before those.

  11. Leslie Saunders
    December 1, 2016

    Thanks,Anita, for telling people about this. I always wheedle the giant bags from Walmart, when I make my monthly purchases. When I’m in line, I notice other seniors doing the same thing. I use and reuse them for ” dry trash”‘ during the month, while using the smaller grocery or drug store bags for wet, messy trash.
    We wash and reuse food storage bags by letting them dry in the sunlight outside.
    If your ironing board is folded up after use, you can dry them outside on the legs and hump of the ironing board. I make a form of laundry soap as an extender to what I buy. Purex powder detergent, with an ocean breeze deodorizer , is my base. I then add finely shaved or liquid made soap from our soap scraps, to extend the box. One box from Winco, costs 3.61, and lasts a month this way. We wash daily, because of our pets and personal laundry, but also because of free well water and sunshine. I also use the liquid soap scraps for stain remover and pre soak.
    Another thing that really can be learned, is hair cutting. You can start with a Dollar Tree hair trim scissors, and work up to a nice kit from Costco, for 30-40 dollars. There are free videos and books at the library on cutting hair to help you. My husband and I cut each other’s hair, but I have cut my own when he has been in the hospital. Our big motivation for frugality is the high co pays we have for specialists and some medicine. I am not whining or complaining, but just stating how it is for us. It is one variable expense we cannot always keep a lid on, although we have changed to Blue Cross Blue Shield managed care because the coverage seems better. I find your articles really encouraging and helpful, and I appreciate them!

    • Anita
      December 1, 2016

      You have some great ideas for make do. I made myself a plastic bag dryer when I lived at the old house. I haven’t unpacked the box its stored in yet. I don’t think I’m gonna need it here. I like your idea of a person cutting their own hair. MY brother and SIL go to the beauty school for cheap hair cuts. I don’t cut my hair. Its very long, ankle length. Only time it was ever cut was when I was a kid. My mother cut it and Grandma Mama had a fit. It has never been cut since. I have an appointment with my doctor next week. I have to ask for prescriptions to be written for generic if available. I saw in the formulary book that the cost of my meds are going up A LOT next year.

      I believe everyone here reading my blog or commenting on the blog are all feeling the same squeeze. I’m so glad we can all share what we do to cut expenses. I learn alot of others. I’m glad I can encourage too.

      • Leslie Saunders
        December 1, 2016

        Your hair sounds glamorous! How do you condition long haire?

        • Anita
          December 3, 2016

          Not really glamorous. I wear it in a bun most of the time. I use 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar plus 1 teaspoon honey in a cup of water. Pour it over my head after washing. Massage it in for a minute. Lightly rinse again and that’s it. The vinegar is acidic so its not good to use very strong or too often. i wash my hair only once a week.

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