Keeping Up With the Smiths

Keeping up with the Joneses is bad.  We know that.  From a financial perspective, we spend a great deal of our time overcoming the green monster called envy in order to keep our lives in some semblance of financial order.  We know the Joneses down the street with their big, fancy new SUV.  We see them going on long family vacations.  And we know the guy that mows their lawn.  But, we also know that there’s a pretty high probability that they still owe a ton of money on that SUV.  That that family vacation likely was financed through a credit card.  Their entire financial life depends on them keeping their well-paying jobs.

Forget the Joneses

I’d like to talk about another family.  The Smiths.  You don’t know them.  We don’t talk about them like we do the Joneses.  Why don’t we?  Because, outwardly, their lives are nothing to be envious of.  They don’t own a big house on a double lot.  They don’t drive a brand new Escalade.  Their family vacations consist of weekend trips to state parks or trips to visit family a couple of counties over.  Outwardly, they may even seem a bit downtrodden.  They may seem (GASP!) a bit poor.

Sometimes they are.  Sometimes, they are truly victims of their circumstance, or their poor financial choices along the way.  But, for every one of those families, there’s at least two that aren’t poor.  They have well paying jobs.  They have money in the bank.  And they occasionally barbeque a steak on the cheap grill they have on their back deck.  It’s those Smiths I’d like to talk about.

It’s the Quiet Ones You Have to Watch Out For

Why don’t we know the Smiths?  Because we live in a society that is enamored of our celebrity.  We hang on every word that that famous athlete, or famous actress says.  We try and model our lives after theirs.  They live a glamorous life, full of flashing photography, red carpets, and any number of endorsement deals.

Keeping up with the Smiths

Who wouldn’t want to be like that?  Short of being famous, we decide that we’ll see how close we can get.  The bank doesn’t turn us down for that big house, big car, or vacation to the same beach that the celebrities hang out on.  Maybe we’ll even get to see one of them!

But, it’s the Smiths we should know.  We should know people who live their lives responsibly within their means.  We should know people who live for more than having our fellow neighbors think about how rich we are, and how rich our lives must be.  We should be the Smiths.  We should be the people who drive the reliable older car without the flashy rims and booming sound system.  We should be the people who live in the smaller house that we try and repair ourselves.

Society may push us towards that Joneses sort of lifestyle.  After all, what would become of some of the companies if we stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses and stopped buying all their luxury goods?  What would the news and tabloids cover if we weren’t constantly buying their rags in order to find out what sort of clothes the princes and princesses of some foreign country were wearing this spring?

Shiny Facades, Crumbling Foundations

All around us, there are Smiths.  We don’t notice them, and we rarely get to know them.  We’re surrounded by the Joneses, and the shiny facades of businesses and economies that are driven by their reckless spending.  But, under those shiny facades is a crumbling foundation.  The economy of the world is on shaky ground.  We saw just how shaky it really was in 2008.  When the housing market crashed, it very nearly brought the entire world economy with it.  Luckily, the economy was strong enough at the time to take a beating.  It wasn’t strong enough to bounce right back.  It’s been a long slog back to where we were.  We aren’t even back there yet.  There are still parts of the world that are hurting economically.

Imagine, for a moment, if we rebuilt that economy, not on the sands of bailouts and extended unemployment benefits, and instead built it on the bedrock of hard work and frugality that got us where we were in the first place.  Imagine if we had seen the folly of our loose spending ways and tightened our belts, stuck to our budgets, and started building an economy that doesn’t shake and quiver at the smallest rise in unemployment, or the slightest miss in an earnings report?

What if, instead of running around willy-nilly chasing the lifestyle of the Joneses, we were calmly working ourselves into the stable economy of the Smiths?  What if we all didn’t have wait for our next paycheck to buy gas because our last paycheck went to our mortgage and car payments?  What if we were able to fill a tank of gas from the cash in our bank account and know that we still had our emergency funds to help us along should a real emergency come along?

We can.  We can bring our spending in line with our earning.  We can sell the fancy car that we don’t need.  We can downsize our house to something that we can afford.  Sure, the dependable used car you buy might not have as much chrome as the fancy one.  It might not have the same heated seats.  And the house you downsize to might not have a walk-in closet, or a jacuzzi bath tub.  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You don’t need them.  They’re luxuries.  You only think that it’s normal to have those things because the Joneses told you it was.

We should be keeping up with the Smiths.

We can be the Smiths.

Stock the Freezer with Frugal Meat Through Hunting

My wife really enjoys eating healthy, and prefers the taste of organic, grass fed meats to the traditional pasture raised and corn finished variety that is far less expensive. My wife usually does the shopping, but last time I went with her she bought a pound of ground buffalo for $9.99, and that was on sale! I absolutely couldn’t believe it! We try and keep our grocery tab under 65-75 dollars per week for the two of us, and she was spending more than 10% of it on one item!

That’s a lot of money, and more of the same in this department would put us in the poor house in no time flat. Thankfully though, we very rarely buy meat from the store. It’s not that we are vegetarians or vegans, but we prefer to get our meat from other sources. The main sources that we use to get meat these days is hunting and fishing. I’ve found that this is a great way to get high quality meat for a great price. Not only that, but you get to be outside all the time while you do it.

I started hunting right out of college with my dad and my uncle, and I went with them because it was what they always did. Hunting didnt seem that abnormal to me at the time, and neither did securing your own food. It was just something we did because we didnt have a lot of money to spend on anything, especially food.

Goes Hunting Gets a freezer full of frugal meat

Now though, I’m hard pressed to find someone that is under the age of 30 that hunts, and I cant figure out why. Every time I go to the store I see people filling up their carts with organic, free range and grass fed meat, and they are paying a pretty penny for it! When I go deer hunting I usually yield about 35 pounds of raw meat, and I pay $20 for my hunting tag, which equates to about $1.75 per pound. This isn’t just some regular old factory farmed meat either, it’s high quality, grass fed, free range organic stuff that people are paying an arm and a leg for. It’s good, frugal meat.

This poundage that I get is all venison as well, it’s before I combine it with a little beef fat for hamburger or before mixing with pork for venison sausage. Typically, when you make sausages or ground venison, you want to add some fat because venison is so lean that it dries out pretty quickly, further increasing your actual yield.

The same can be said for fishing. I know not everyone likes fish that much (and the ones that are more popular like salmon are nowhere to be found where I come from) but you can get a great source of protein with them as well. Your yield isnt as high in terms of poundage, but you still get some great healthy food for cheap. Fishing tags are also a lot cheaper where I come from (about $25 for the season) and can be a great source of food as well.

What if You Dont Hunt or Aren’t Interested?

To this I say that is just fine! To each their own. You don’t need to hunt or fish to enjoy wild game meat. All you have to do is befriend a hunter. Last year, I had quite a few friends express interest in any leftover meat that I had, so I simply purchased an extra tag and harvested an extra animal. Once I was finished processing it, I gave 4 of my friends about 10 lbs each of multiple cuts of venison. They each got some sausages, steaks, roasts and ground venison. Everyone was so thankful they offered to pay me – I couldn’t believe it, I had a great time out there and was happy to do it for free.

The next question I got was how do I cook this – which is also a simple solution. I explained the cuts of meat that each person got, and they went and searched for venison tenderloin recipes or whatever the cut was, and found a great recipe online. Lots of them shared the recipes with me, so it was nice to get some new stuff to try as well.

If you’re looking for one great way to save on food costs, stay healthy and “beat broke”, I encourage you to take up hunting or befriend someone that is a hunter. They can help you save a lot of money while they have fun outdoors!

Readers: Have you ever hunted before? If no, Are you interested? Why or Why not? Do you know any friendly hunters that may share with you?

Original image credit: Hunting Face, by Kristacher, on Flickr

Save Money and Eat Healthy: Rent an Apple Tree

When my health began to suffer a few years ago thanks to stress, being overweight, and having some intestinal issues, I started taking much better care of myself.  That meant eating organic foods, following a Paleo diet, and losing over 70 pounds.

I used to always say I didn’t have money to buy organic foods, but my health issues weren’t cheap, so I decided in the long run, eating the best food I could was a priority, even if it was more expensive.  Over the years, though, I’ve found ways to cut costs on eating organic.  One way is renting an organic apple tree.

How Does Renting an Apple Tree Work?

I simply Googled “rent an apple tree” to find one near us.  Then, I rented one apple tree for $55.  All the apples on that tree were mine.  I paid in the spring, and the Paula Red apples were ready in August.

Rent an Apple Tree

The farm called me to tell me when the apples were ripe, and then I and my family headed out to the orchard to pick the apples.  It took less than 45 minutes, and we left with 94 pounds of organic apples.

What Did We Do With All Those Apples?

Paula Reds don’t stay good for long, so we turned them into applesauce.  (And we ate a lot of them fresh.)  We ended up with 28 quarts of applesauce, which I stored in the freezer.  It took me, my husband and son working together 7 hours to process all of the apples.

We didn’t have to add any sugar because they were naturally sweet.

How Much Did We Save?

The lowest price I have been able to find for organic applesauce is $2.50 for 16 ounces at Trader Joe’s.   Just like our applesauce, Trader Joe’s applesauce only contains organic apples.  There are 32 ounces in a quart, so one quart of Trader Joe’s applesauce is $5.00.

One quart of our homemade applesauce from apples on our rented tree is approximately $1.96.  Overall, we saved $85 and will have enough applesauce to last us through the winter.

We also signed up for another apple tree in October for apples that are suitable for storage.  We’ll be able to keep them in our refrigerator for several months and eat them fresh.  If we get another 94 pounds, we’ll be paying just 58 cents a pound, which will be a significant savings over the grocery stores where I can never seem to find organic apples for less than $1.99 a pound.

It’s Not Just About the Savings

Still, it’s not just about the savings.  What matters is that we know exactly where the apples came from and how they were processed.  In addition, they are local, in season, and organic, which is the best way to eat food.

If you want to feed your family healthier foods but feel that they are out of your budget, don’t despair.  There are several unique ways to feed your family organic food on a budget.  Renting an apple tree is just one of those ways.  We’ll be sure to do this again next year.

Have you done something like this? Do you buy food direct from the farmer?

Original Photo Credit:MetaphoricalPlatypus, on Flickr.